Ythan Challenge race report – by Vik Lomax

The Ythan Challenge is a becoming a bit of an annual pilgrimage up north every June and is one of those races you should try at least once in your life. It’s essentially a 11-12k off-road race crossed with a very muddy obstacle course. It appeared on the Adventure Show a few years back and Dermot and I have been going along ever since. I’ve managed a few second places but had never won it so I intended to go up and do my best to rectify that this year!

It never rains on Ythan Challenge day and the torrential rain on the Sunday morning when we woke up at our friends’ house was a bit of a surprise (and quite annoying given that most of the country was basking in a heat wave!). But it wasn’t as much of a surprise as getting to registration and finding that my name wasn’t on the list! Fortunately I had my email confirmation of entry and a nice lady who believed me anyway and gave me a new number. Phew!

The race is split into three waves based on predicted finish time to avoid any congestion on the route. After a bit of a warm up and chance to check out the obstacles planned for the last 400 metres (a tunnel, rope net and hay bales to climb) we were lined up and ready to go. Two other women stepped forward to near the front of the pack and I had a quick check to see if I recognised any of them. I didn’t and the winners from the last few years didn’t seem to be there which was good news for my pot hunting plans.

As we set off, one of the lady runners pelted off at great speed and was alongside Dermot as we went around a playing field and headed onto the river bank. If she was alongside Dermot she was either a far better runner than me or going too fast so I didn’t panic and stuck to my plan to go at a steady pace on the fairly flat first 3k and save something in the tank for the tough section.

After 1k I started to pick people off and was gaining on the first lady and, after sticking behind her for a few strides to suss out if she was fading or might stick with me, I pushed ahead. My only goal now was to maintain my position and put a bit of distance between me and any other women as I didn’t want it to come down to a sprint finish in the final 400m as clearing obstacles on tired legs and sprinting isn’t fun!

After some meandering along the river, we headed up and over a bridge and onto the first muddy slope. But the real obstacles came at 4k  in the wooded section. I was still moving up the pack nicely as we entered the woods and the obstacles started with a few logs to leap followed by a drop down to the river bank. I knew the next bit was the hardest –  every year the obstacles change slightly but it always involves clambering up a very steep muddy hill and back down again twice with hay bales to clear at the very top when you’ve no energy and no chance of a run up.

The slope was slippier than usual this year with the rain and I was glad I’d opted for trail shoes. At the top I went for a sideways roll over the hay bales and committed to the jump just before I spotted a swarm of wasps coming out of the hay obviously more than a bit peeved at their home getting so rudely disturbed by these runners. It felt like getting an electrical shock as they stung all over my face and neck which was made even more fun by then getting my legs stung by nettles as I tried not to fall on my backside on the steep downhill straight after.

At the bottom of the slope was a deep sticky mud bath which usually gains a good few trainers each year which are never seen again. My body was hurting with the stings so much that mud wasn’t going to bother me and I pelted through it as it sprayed all over my face. I was caked in the stuff but next came a plunge into the river. I wished at this point that I was a little taller as the water came higher and higher above my waist and the coldness of it took my breath away but on the plus side it also took my mind off my rapidly swelling face and neck.  In the deepest section of water, I looked back and saw another female runner just getting into the river. I’d not seen her before and she looked strong. ‘Heck’ I thought, I’d better not hang around.

Out of the water, it was straight up and down another steep muddy bank and back into the river and this section was fortunately shallower and I managed to gain two places by running through it. Out of the water and next came a rope net to climb over, tunnels to climb through and a gate to clear. Knowing there was someone behind me I really went for it at all the obstacles, throwing myself over and under and scraping my knee and arms (hopefully two weeks is long enough for them to heal before my wedding!).

The next couple of kilometres went in a bit of a haze but involved more hills, more hay bales (thankfully minus the wasps) tyres to climb through and a rope net on the floor to crawl under and then eventually we popped out back onto the forest track with fairly flat and even paths where you can really put a good push in to the finish. I ran the last 4-5 k on my own and was keeping what felt like a strong but comfortable pace and was slowly gaining on two guys in front of me. I allowed myself just the occasional check to make sure there were no women within catching distance behind me. Apart from a suspect route arrow which caused a bit of a detour and some confusion (I just followed the guys in front and let them try to work the route out!), we were suddenly off the river bank and back at the sports centre for the final kick. I could hear cheering as the top runners finished and hoped that Dermot would be in with them.

We took a left turn back into the playing fields and up a short steep slope with yet more hay bales at the very top. There was one last leap, then onto my hands and knees to crawl under the rope net and through the tunnel and then just a 200m sprint to go. I glanced back, saw there were no women and I had the biggest grin on my face as I cleared the line as 1st female and 15th overall. On my 5th attempt, I’d finally won and Dermot had come 3rd overall: getting his first ever top three finish in a running event. We were both over the moon and decided that while relaxing in a heat wave might be nice, on balance, we’d much rather have rain, mud, stings and trophies (and very nice trophies they are too)!

3 thoughts on ““Ythan Challenge race report – by Vik Lomax”

  • Pingback: RACE REPORT – Xodus Ythan Challenge 2011 | Red Wine Runner

  • Bryan

    Brilliant win Vik. Sounds like your nearest challenger went off too quick and got your strategy spot on. Well done.

  • Greg Bruce

    Well done Vik, I feel your pain RE the wasps, I jumped and was set upon by a fair squad of the wee blighters, arms and legs tho unlike yer poor face. This was my 1st attempt as I’ve only been running a year and this is my 1st season, It was interesting to say the least and another challenge completed 🙂 I just wish I could be going into races without all the niggles…..but that’s the joys of pounding the streets I guess. Well done again on your achievement. I finished 147th overall with time of 1:13:10…something to work on 😀

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